tv Washington Week PBS December 9, 2011 8:00pm-8:30pm PST
gwen: it may be the season of peace and good cheer. but don't tell that to the 2012 presidential candidates. it seems like everybody's picking a fight. tonight on "washington week." a new national frontrunner. and republicans pile on. >> newt gingrich is a product of that same washington who participated in the excesses of our broken and polarized political system. >> after he left congress, freddie mac paid gingrich at least $1.6 million. >> i was way down here and now i'm up here so i know you can go way back down here. gwen: but they're still attacking the incumbent. >> as president, i'll end obama's war on religion. >> president obama has adopted an appeasement strategy. appeasement betrays a lack of faith in america, in american strength, and in america's
future. gwen: the president was striking back. >> ask osama bin laden and the 22 out of 30 top al qaeda leaders who have been taken off the field whether i engage in appeasement or whoever is left out there. ask them about that. gwen: the first voting is only weeks away. are we seeing a race to the top or to the bottom? covering the week in politics, charles babington of the associated press, major garrett of "national journal." john harwood of cnbc and "the new york times." and alexis simendinger of real clear politics. >> award-winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens, live from our nation's capital this is "washington week with gwen ifill." produced in association with "national journal." corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> this rock has never stood
still. since 1875, we've been there for our clients through good times and bad. when their needs changed, we were there to meet them. through the years, from insurance to investment management, from real estate to retirement solutions, we've developed new ideas for the financial challenges ahead. this rock has never stood still. and that's one thing that will never change. prudential. >> corporate funding is also provided by boeing. additional funding for "washington week" is provided by the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. once again, live from washington, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. so newt gingrich is the man to beat. statewide polls show him with wide leads in new hampshire,
south carolina, florida, and even nationally. and in new hampshire, which shares a border with the state mitt romney used to govern, the former house speaker has narrowed the lead. politicians in both major parties are struggling to absorb the new political reality and so is gingrich himself. >> we still have a lot of work to do. with the next four weeks in iowa, then a real rush in new hampshire, then on to south carolina, then on to florida and nevada. i mean, all those are within about a month. so i think if we have a little interview right after nevada, we'll have a better sense of how real it is. gwen: cue the takedown. including this mitt romney video. >> doesn't have the discipline that you want in a president. >> he's out and basically out on the left wing of the republican party. >> with allies like that you don't need the left. gwen: the gingrich people today called this a sign of unbridled panic. is that what it is, chuck? >> well, maybe not panic.
but they certainly realize what you just mentioned, that gingrich has come from pretty far back suddenly to the top of these polls in the important states. and now we are getting closer to the voting that starts january 3 in iowa and january 10 in new hampshire. so i think one of the calculations that romney's people is can we count on him to fall just as all the others did, bachmann, perry, cain, will he fall in time? what they're trying to do is for romney himself not to do the heavy hitting. he's still kind of staying above the fray. but his surrogates, putting surrogates out who have been very tough on newt gingrich. gwen: why is newt gingrich in this position right now? what is behind his rise? >> a couple of things. one is the absence of other g.o.p. heavyweights who decided not to run in this presidential race. think about it this way. if newt gingrich was on the debate stage as he has been throughout, and mitch daniels, the governor of indiana was there, haley barbour, governor
of mississippi, john thune, senator from south dakota was there, chris christie, governor of new jersey -- gwen: how do we know they wouldn't have blown up? >> what they would have had is something that gingrich didn't possess which is contrary political experience. -- contemporary political experience. and attachment to contemporary political challenges within their states and within the republican party at large. but they're not there. and this field, gingrich understood, even during the time his campaign was imploding in june and july, wasn't strong enough, and that there would be someone who would become the ultimate respository of the we can't stand mitt romney coalition of the republican party. gingrich always believed that romney was misaligned with the way the republican party as a nominating party is. he's northeastern. they're southern and western. he's ideological flexible, they're ideological rigid. he is christian, yes, but of the mormon faith that's not universally thought of as comfortable with the evangelical wing of the republican party. all these things misalign romney. gingrich knew that. and is rising as chuck said in
precisely the right time. zphr let's talk about how romney has tried to respond to this. seems to have settled an argument that he is using to target both newt gingrich and president obama and we heard a little bit of it today in cedar rapids, iowa. >> what distinguishes them was the capacity to lead. their character. their vision. their ability to bring other people along, to convince others. the capacity to lead is what we need in america's president. gwen: now, he was talking, comparing himself to former presidents he admired and saying basically, neither barack obama nor newt gingrich know thousand lead. but i do. does that -- is that resonating? >> gwen, what seems to be resonating more is a more emotional and forceful argument. and that is what newt gingrich briggs. for good and for bad. but he -- he tends to say things that are over the top and a lot of people who don't like him so much say that's a ridiculous thing to say.
gwen: you're using understatement to describe his over the top. >> exactly. but i talk to a lot of people -- we're trying to figure out some of the things we're seeing in these polls that don't make sense that people who don't think he is terribly honest are supporting him. why is that? they love the way he takes on the news media. he tends to berate some of the reporters in these debates. i talked to a tea party person who said you know what? when he does that we feel like he speaks for us. they think he will be very forceful against barack obama. and you have seen in the past when some of these other candidates did rise, a lot of them did tend to have forceful language. michelle bachmann. for a while donald trump seemed to be getting a lot of attention. and i never talked to anyone who thought donald trump would be the nominee. but they liked the way -- >> debate moderator. >> and even then he was toying with the idea that barack obama milet not be born in the united states. as absurd as some of us think that was it resonated with republican audience who is are angry and want someone who will be very, very forceful. >> major, you were talking
before about gwen's question, where does the gingrich support come from? >> my operating theory of this race has been you have a bunch of athletes at the starting line. mitt romney is healthy and reasonably fast. not terribly fast. and everybody else in the race has got a pulled hamstring or broken ankle. herman cain didn't have political experience. we saw what happened to him. michelle bachmann, others have risen and fallen, rick perry. my question now is how debilitated is newt gingrich by the fact that he's been operating basically with a mom and pop campaign and only now has begun raising money? some people say in the age of social networking, that's not as much of a handicap as has been thought in the past. >> it hasn't been a handicap so far. and you heard newt gingrich's comments in that interview. he's cautious about this. i'll tell you this. he's reverse engineered his campaign and most organized in south carolina. i project he will win south carolina because he's fit south carolina and better organized
there and better organized in new hampshire and least organized in iowa and just turned on the phones there. gwen: and leading in florida. >> leading in florida. in iowa, there's a sense of organization that's very powerful. ron paul will be an important factor in iowa. what gingrich has right now is electricity. and those of us who covered newt gingrich before he was speaker understood what co-do in a room with people who had -- could do in a room with people who had never seen him before. this idea of merchandisizing has a psychological effect on people who think they are motivated by ideas. if the timing is right and gingrich can create this electricity about people who think i'm not just for a republican, i'm not just for newt gingrich. i'm for big ideas. ints -- it creates a galvanizing reinforcing energy. and if he can tap into that and apply it at just the right time, gingrich could be a formidable foe for mitt romney. >> one of the things i was thinking about listening to you talking is about the fighter in newt gingrich. and that many conservatives are saying they really want to see that in a republican nominee. but we're seeing a week in
which newt gingrich is pulling back and not trying to do attack ads and being the more gentle, softer newt gingrich. so how can you have the two things together, the conserve tisch want that fight -- conservatives want that fight and can it last? yeah. >> it's a great question. and gingrich may be able to pull it off. because one thing he does is when he is talking about the context of republicans, he says, let's don't -- let's don't beat up on each other. he said that several times in the debates. it always got a good applause. it resonates very well with republicans. but who he is really tough on is obama. the news media. the business as usual congress and these sort of things. and the question is can he maintain that -- gwen: he is not known for vrg the thickest skin in the business. >> or a lot of personal discipline. >> a very effective line while he is getting this flack from establishment conservative columnists and from mitt romney and others to say, i have one opponent, and it's barack obama. >> so far, he has shown a thick
skin in the last couple of days. we got -- >> in iowa that's crucial. all of my experience in iowa says those who attack late lose. the late attackers always lose in iowa. because iowa voters, both republican and democrats, internalize that as they're weak, they're flailing. and they're going negative. we want to have a positive vision. and so gingrich is trying to stay on that turf and quism on this leadership question, it's -- quickly on this leadership question, it's mixed. those who rose with newt gingrich, first republican majority in 40 years and that didn't happen after 40 years you get a majority. no. gingrich led that revolution largely and mismanaged it horribly. people forget not only was in a coup in the summer of 1997. he barely won re-election as speaker in january of 1997. only two years after becoming speaker. gwen: can he govern and people are making governing decisions at this time. and at least up until now, they haven't been. but at some point when both start -- aren't -- >> and you need to delegate. and build a team.
and gingrich -- >> isn't there a question about gingrich, excuse knee, about romney, when he says can he lead other people, bring them along? why can't mitt romney bring the republican party along right now? sgl that's the question. that all of this is anybody but romney still. >> romney has been stuck at about 25% in the republican polls for months and months and months. which about 75% want someone other than romney. on january 3 in iowa, they're going to have to decide. but -- >> he's been dropping from 25. gingrich has been rising and romney has been falling. he's falling in iowa. falling in new hampshire. gwen: and four years ago right now, we thought rudolph ghoul an was leading -- rudolph ghoulian i was -- guliana was leading in the polls. the president chose to start drawing contrasts with republicans who want his job. from tax cuts to foreign policy to consumer protection, president obama's basic argument was this wasn't about
politics. >> i just want to make sure, this is not about me. they shouldn't extend the payroll tax cut for me. they shouldn't extend unemployment insurance for me. this is for 160 million people who in 23 days are going to see their taxes go up if congress doesn't act. gwen: it sounds good. it sounds really good, john. but it is about him, isn't it? >> well, he's running for re-election. he wants four more years. so yes, in that respect it is about him. but he also has a point. because in fact, there will be a real tax increase if this is not extended. i think in fact, it will be extended. because republicans have been giving ground on this. they're divided on strategy. but at the end of the day, republican leaders and the white house have agreed that it will sh extended. -- it will be extended. the president is framing an argument he began earlier in the week in kansas when he invoked teddy roosevelt and said essentially that he is trying to advance a 21st
century version of the progressive ehe are a reforms that teddy roosevelt ushered in to temper the excesses of capitalism during the industrial revolution. and he talked about the long, widening income gap in this country. the fight to give a fair shot to people in the middle class and cast republicans on the side of the winners in this economy. and he's going to try to prosecute that argument. ever since the collapse of the grand bargain negotiations with the speaker over the summer, he's turned into a public phase of argumentation, not private negotiations, he's going to try to beat them over the head publicly. gwen: is that the strategy, they will sit there and say we're on your side and the side. middle class and the side of the little person, whether it's defending consumers and consumer protection appointment that the senate blocked this week, or whether it's talking about income inequality which he doesn't do that much, is that the goal, setting up the contrast for the republicans? >> yeah, absolutely.
and he's also playing the flip side of it, too. you were talking about how he's trying to say that this is about you, this is about you the middle class on the -- i'm the warrior for you and also making a flip argument which is they're trying to make this about me by saying that they want to oppose everything that i'm for. so he's trying to play two sides. one is for the middle class. base. democratic voters. the other the playing above politics. that's very much for independent voters. that's what independent voters respond to. so right now the president after the summer is -- as john aptly described it, the president and his whole team thought we have no choice. congress is not working with us. the republicans are beating us up. independent voters and most voters are describing us as weak, that the president is weak, ineffectual. we have to change this narrative. and he has done a very dramatic alteration of his whole political persona i would argue. and what we heard in kansas was the beginning of his campaign and we're going to hear this again and again and again. and it's very familiar. and do we all remember putting
people first? it's the people versus the powerful. this is very dyed in the wool populism. >> there's people and people of different incomes. i'm fascinated by this payroll tax debate. i don't fully understand it because republicans, especially in recent years have branded thesms as we are the party that cuts taxes and does not raise taxes. aren't they somewhat vulnerable in this debate of being pegged as more excited about making sure there's no tax increases on the wealthy and less so about the middle class? isn't that the argument that president obama and the democrats are making here? >> yes and he has been winning the argument. republicans know they're behind the eight ball on that and why the leaders mcconnell and boehner have made clear we want this to happen. boehner has got resense from the rank and file in the house. a lot of people on various grounds, one, if you cut payroll taxes, youen danger the social security trust fund. if you do a temporary tax cut, that's not really a solution, especially if you pay for it with a permanent tax increase on the wealthy.
others think it's not necessary that we need to focus on deficit reduction right now rather than trying to stimulate the economy. so there's a real question as to how it can get done. but whether -- should be done is a settled question in the eyes of republican leaders and we're about negotiating the details. >> you mentioned the president changing his rhetoric and we picked that up in september and it has been flowing ever since. but if you look at his polling numbers, 41% approval in gallup up to 43% now. but still shallow by historical standards. in the modern era only jimmy carter had lower or near lower or near as low public approval ratings according to gallup at this stage of his presidency. everyone else was higher. jordan her better walker bush was higher at -- george herbert walker bush was higher at 56% and not predictive but is the white house confident that it is working and changing people's minds? >> one of the things that you hear them talking about at the white house is this sense that his number, overall job
approval number could be lower and it's not lower. that's one. that for an economy that is this bad could be lower and they look deeper into the poll responses to particular kinds of policies. when john is describing public support for the payroll expansion and unemployment insurance which is very important to people who have no jobs and in red states also by the way also, the support there for whacking millionaires, to add a is your tax a. short -- sur tax, a short-term surtax, very high. you may not like me this-man but you approve these policies. >> and the referendum on me number, nolt the -- on mean number, not the choice number. gwen: and the example in two things that happened this week, one was that the administration's decision to back away from the idea of allowing girls under the age of 17 to get this day after pill
called plan b. and that was surprising. because the secretary of health and human services, not the president, was the pun who pulled back on that and the other a decision for the administration to drop its complaint against boeing, the national labor relations board. quietly let that go away. once again, people who are on the left, were puzzled by both decisions. and it seems like fights that the administration decided not to pick. >> the president has been doing this for a number of months if you remember, he lgs put in a -- he also put in an e.p.a. smog rule. a number of decisions where the president has basically armed his executive branch to postpone issues that he believed could be -- they could envision the attack ads, the political attack ads. let's postpone these things to the future. for instance, in the discussion about the payroll tax, why are republicans drawing back into the keystone x.l. pipeline question, right? this got mixed in. apples and oranges to the payroll tax discussion. because they know that this splinters democrats and draws
back into the debate a very uncomfortable discussion for the president. that he had post poned into well into the future after the election. so is anybody shocked that the president, can i see an attack ad that could involve 11-year-old girls in a discussion about morning after contraception? gwen: let's not even have that. >> let's not have that discussion. >> and a reach for the independent voters, right? who are going to be crucial a year from now or almost a year from now are not in play now. and the hope on the obama team's part is that these republicans whoever survives is going to move himself so far to the right that he or she, bash mann is not out -- bachmann is not out of it yet and hard to move back to the center for those voters. >> the administration hopes that the conservatism of republicans on social issues will make some of those social issues an affirmative weapon for them but didn't want to provide a fat target on plan b. >> briefly, you can use executive orders to create jobs. you can also use executive
power to protect your own. gwen: it's very interesting to watch the administration decide who they're going to respond to. up until now they've only been talking about mitt romney. and now this week they've had to pause and say really, newt gingrich? i wonder if they want to just step back and let the republicans take each other out or whether they feel the need to get in on this and start taking down republicans before the primary really plays itself out? >> i would expect the administration to continue either loudly or not so loudly going after mitt romney because that's the nominee they fear the most. they believe that newt gingrich would be a target rich environment for them. in a general election. so they may talk about him a little bit because he's much more in the conversation. but romney is the main chance that they're keeping their eye on. >> they think it will be romney and they know in the horse race matchups and chuck wrote about them, has written about them this week, that the president does overwhelmingly better than newt gingrich in some of these, in this early, early, early stage. but it's a much tighter matchup in these polls against romney. >> and also feel that in some
ways, romney is a more predictable type of candidate. gingrich is so unusual. they're afraid that some strange things might happen. but they do think romney is the most likely. >> speaking of unpredictability, peggy noonan in "the wall street journal" said newt gingrich is a human live grenade walking around with his finger on the pin saying "watch this." gwen: thank you, everyone. once again, we have to leave you a few minutes early this week so that you can have a chance to support your local station. which in turn supports us. by the time we see you here next week, there will have been two more debates. and who knows what else? so keep up with daily developments on air and online at the pbs newshour. tebow to the "washington week" website to see what hour panelists are writing about. you can find us all at pbs.org and join us around the table next week on "washington week." good night. the conversation continues
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